A streak must end in Champaign Saturday.

In the maroon corner, we have Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim. Ibrahim has 13 consecutive games with at least 100 rushing yards dating to the 2020 season.

In the blue corner stands the surprisingly stout defense of the Illinois Fighting Illini. Illinois is No. 3 in the country against the run. The Illini have held four consecutive opponents both under 100 rushing yards and without a rushing touchdown.

To understand how impressive that Illini streak is, one must view it in context:

There is a possibility both streaks come to an end, of course. Ibrahim could be held under 100 yards and still score a touchdown. But it feels like the outcome of this showdown between Big Ten West leaders will be determined by who wins the battle for the century mark: Ibrahim, or the Illini.

In turn, it will determine the fate of another streak.

Illinois coach Bret Bielema is a perfect 9-0 all-time against the Gophers — 8-0 at Wisconsin and 1-0 at Illinois.

Will Bielema be able to make it a perfect 10?

Minnesota’s source of Mo-mentum

To understand what Mohamed Ibrahim means to Minnesota, it’s best to observe what happens when he doesn’t play.

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Minnesota’s most recent game is a perfect example.

Ibrahim dressed out, but did not play due to an ankle injury. The result was disastrous for the Gophers. Purdue limited Minnesota to 47 rushing yards on 26 carries. Minnesota’s perfect start to the season screeched to a halt in a 20-10 loss.

That same Purdue defense allowed 189 rushing yards to Florida Atlantic the previous week. And though the Boilermakers have limited 4 of 6 opponents to under 100 rushing yards, they’re not playing at an Illinois level defensively.

Last year, the Gophers lost Ibrahim for the season when he tore his Achilles on the final play of the third quarter in the season opener against Ohio State. Three Minnesota running backs went over 500 yards in his place, and the Gophers still finished 8-4 in the regular season.

But his absence is the ultimate “what could have been” for Minnesota. With Ibrahim playing, the outcomes may have been different in close losses to Illinois and Iowa. The Gophers win the Big Ten West in that scenario.

But there’s also no point in dwelling on that. There’s still a West title for Minnesota to chase this year. And Ibrahim’s return to the field this week is the first step on the path to getting that title.

But it will require topping a defense unlike any the Gophers have encountered this season.

The Orange-and-Blue Wrecking Crew

Illinois is allowing 2.3 yards per carry this season, which stands behind only Clemson and fellow Top 25 upstart James Madison nationally.

Indiana running back Shaun Shivers remains the lone answer to the trivia question, “Who has scored a rushing touchdown against Illinois this year?”

Wyoming is the only team to crack 100 yards on the ground against the Illini, gaining 182 in the season opener. And in that game, the Cowboys could do absolutely nothing through the air — Illinois limited them to 30 passing yards.

It’s very much a pick-your-poison scenario against first-year coordinator Ryan Walters’ defense. Illinois leads the country with 8 points allowed per game, which is just ahead of No. 2 Minnesota’s 8.8 points allowed per game.

As these things so often do, it begins up front.

Sophomore defensive linemen Keith Randolph Jr. and Jer’Zhan Newton are both in the top 5 in the B1G in tackles for loss. Linebacker Tarique Barnes is 11th in the category. No other team has 3 players that high up.

The Illini also have 4 players who rank in the conference top 10 in sacks — Randolph (4), linebacker Seth Coleman (3.5), linebacker Gabe Jacas (3) and Newton (3).

Illinois’ dominance up front makes an enormous difference in the red zone.

Opponents rarely make it inside the 20 against the Illini. It’s only happened 9 times, which rates third nationally. And those 9 red-zone trips have resulted in just a single touchdown, which is the best in the country.

Put it all together, and this is the best Illinois defense in more than a generation. You have to go back to the 1994 unit led by Simeon Rice, Kevin Hardy and Dana Howard to find anything close.

That Lou Tepper-coached team finished fourth nationally with 13 points allowed per game, but only finished 6-5 in the regular season due to Tepper’s allergies to competent offense.

This Illinois team has a far greater ceiling than the ’94 Illini on account of its own star running back.

The Big Ten’s MVP battle

There is another reason Minnesota vs. Illinois is the best game on the Week 7 Big Ten slate behind a top-10 showdown between Michigan and Penn State.

The two most valuable players in the Big Ten are Ibrahim and Illinois counterpart Chase Brown. Brown leads the B1G with 146.5 rushing yards per game, while Ibrahim isn’t far behind at 141.8 ypg. No other Big Ten back is averaging more than 125 yards per game.

Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud will win conference player of the year and possibly the Heisman Trophy. But replace him with backup Kyle McCord, and the Buckeyes are still 6-0 right now. Ohio State might not need Stroud until it plays Penn State and Michigan. The Bucks are loaded with enough offensive weapons that any quarterback could be pulling the strings.

As we saw against Purdue, Minnesota’s offense goes to pot when Ibrahim is missing. The same fate would likely await Illinois without Brown, though thankfully that outcome has been thus far avoided.

With Illinois quarterback Tommy DeVito questionable for the game, this week figures to be the ultimate demonstration of Brown’s value. Minnesota is allowing just 81.4 yards per game on the ground, which ranks sixth in the country.

But part of that is a byproduct of Minnesota’s defense rarely being on the field. The Gophers lead the nation in time of possession, beating even Air Force by over 2 minutes per game. So when measured by yards per carry, Minnesota is 42nd nationally with 3.5 yards per carry allowed.

So even if Ibrahim can become the first back this season to break 100 yards and score a touchdown against the Illini, Brown’s ability to counter that still gives Illinois a chance to win.